February 5, 1996 in Nation/World

More Logging Planned In Area Of Mudslides Environmentalists Call For More Study Of Planned Roads, Cuts In Unstable Areas

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Barely three months ago, mudslides inflicted the worst damage in memory across the Clearwater National Forest.

The Forest Service, admitting most of the 295 slides were caused by logging roads and logging, promises not to repeat its mistake.

But now the agency is initiating 27 million board-feet of logging next to some of the worst damage - a 1,000-foot-long scar where roads, trees and mud plunged from a ridgetop to the North Fork of the Clearwater River.

Environmentalists are outraged.

“The Forest Service wouldn’t even recognize a nuclear explosion as a change in the forest,” said Charles Pezeshki of the Clearwater Biodiversity Project in Troy, Idaho. “It lives in denial of the damage done by the slides.”

The Forest Service, meanwhile, says the Fish Bate timber sale will make the woods better by reducing fire danger and getting rid of dead and dying trees.

“If we do nothing, it will burn, and it will burn very, very hot,” said Art Bourassa, ranger on the North Fork District. The result would be no trees to hold the soil and terrible erosion.

The sale calls for extracting 14.9 million board-feet of live trees and 12.7 million board-feet of dead timber.

If there’s a buyer, it’s a done deal. The sale comes under the salvage-logging law passed last summer that exempts it from appeal and prohibits challenges under environmental laws.

But it’s way too soon to be cutting trees, environmentalists say. A wet spring could carve out more devastating slides.

“Before they cut one tree, they need to do an extensive review of the landslides, of the land types, and of how many trees have been taken out of these drainages,” said Larry McLaud of the Idaho Conservation League.

“What are the impacts of Fish Bate’s 2 square miles of clearcuts in an area that is highly unstable and has already slid?”

Forest Service officials disagree that the planned timber sale amounts to clearcutting.

From a distance, harvested areas will “look like lightly stocked stands in natural condition,” said Bourassa.

Roads were responsible for the nearby Lower Leuty slide and most of the problems on the forest, Bourassa said. But Fish Bate timber will be removed by helicopter, requiring little road construction, Bourassa said.

That, in conjunction with leaving wider uncut buffers along streams and some replanting, should mean the logging won’t affect streams in the area, the Forest Service said.

“What good are buffers (when) the Lower Leuty slide went through 1,000 feet of forest and into the river,” said Pezeshki of the Clearwater Biodiversity Project.

Environmentalists also are angry that the agency won’t appoint an independent panel to review the worst flood-related destruction anyone can remember.

Soon after the November mudslides, a dozen environmental groups asked Hal Salwasser, head of the Forest Service’s regional headquarters in Missoula, to appoint an independent panel to figure out why the damage was so severe.

Environmentalists also wanted an accounting of how often slides occurred in logged watersheds, or those with extensive road networks.

These groups, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said they are worried the Forest Service will use emergency money from the Federal Highway Administration to rebuild roads that will dissolve into mudslides during the next season of heavy rainfall.

A blue-ribbon panel is a good idea, but it’s impractical, Salwasser said in a letter to the Idaho Conservation League in mid-January.

A lack of money and the uncertainty created by the budget battle between President Clinton and Congress means “such a committee may have limited opportunity to be successful,” Salwasser said.

Agency scientists will “identify the cause and effects of the damage resulting from the flood event, the relationship of this damage to past management activities, and proposed corrective actions,” Salwasser wrote.

That’s little comfort to environmentalists.

The lack of outside review “makes me more leery about their findings,” said the conservation league’s McLaud.

In preliminary findings, the Clearwater National Forest determined that 212 of the 295 slides were probably caused by roads, and 16 by logging. Fire likely played a role in six slides. Trails and natural causes are pegged for the rest.

To the surprise of environmentalists, the largest slide, on Quartz Creek, is being blamed on natural causes.

Aerial photographs show clearcuts above the slide area, McLaud said.

A road in the forest that was buried by 500,000 tons of rock and debris was controversial because of the instability of the soils, he said.

A similar tally of mudslide-related road problems in the Idaho Panhandle National Forests is not yet available.

“There are 20 to 30 road failures that we know about,” said Jim Penzkover, a Forest Service engineer. “It’s so preliminary - we really didn’t get to look at them before it snowed.” , DataTimes MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: BY THE NUMBERS A preliminary report covering mudslides in the Clearwater Forest says: 212 of the 295 slides were probably caused by roads and 16 were probably caused by logging. Fire likely played a role in six slides. Trails and natural causes are pegged for the others. To the surprise of environmentalists, the largest slide, on Quartz Creek, is being blamed on natural causes. Aerial photographs show clearcuts above the slide. Quotable: “The Forest Service wouldn’t even recognize a nuclear explosion as a change in the forest.” - Charles Pezeshki, of the Clearwater Biodiversity Project in Troy, Idaho.

Cut in Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: BY THE NUMBERS A preliminary report covering mudslides in the Clearwater Forest says: 212 of the 295 slides were probably caused by roads and 16 were probably caused by logging. Fire likely played a role in six slides. Trails and natural causes are pegged for the others. To the surprise of environmentalists, the largest slide, on Quartz Creek, is being blamed on natural causes. Aerial photographs show clearcuts above the slide. Quotable: “The Forest Service wouldn’t even recognize a nuclear explosion as a change in the forest.” - Charles Pezeshki, of the Clearwater Biodiversity Project in Troy, Idaho.


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